The Pitt men’s soccer team traveled to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, to face UCF in the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA tournament on Thursday afternoon, and the Panthers not only prevailed over the Knights but demolished them in a 4-0 rout.
Pitt’s first goal came just 23 seconds after the opening kick, as UCF defender Andres Hernandez Betancur was dispossessed of a mishandled ball at the top of the Knights’ box by Filip Mirkovic. The ball found Veljko Petkovic, who maneuvered past UCF defender Yanis Leerman and slotted a shot past UCF goalkeeper Yannik Oettl for a 1-0 lead.
The second of Pitt’s goals was set up by Bertin Jacquesson, who worked his way down to the right side of the Knights’ box and sent a low cross skittering past a few UCF defenders. The ball then found Alexander Dexter, who buried it in the back of the net with an off-balance shot to put Pitt up 2-0 in the 12th minute.
About 10 minutes later, the Knights would commit another catastrophic error, as a back and forth between Leerman and Oettl was interrupted by Valentin Noel, who careened into the box and knocked the ball away from Oettl. The ball, which was left at the top of the box, was claimed by Petkovic, who steered around Oettl and tapped a shot in for a 3-0 advantage that the Panthers would hold at the half.
Opportunities were slower to develop in the second half, but about 20 minutes into the action, the Knights lost track of the ball in their defensive third once again. This time around, Noel capitalized on the mistake, scoring his 13th goal of the season and providing Pitt with its final goal in the 4-0 victory.
Perhaps the only unfortunate aspect of the game from Pitt’s perspective was that Jasper Löeffelsend went down with an injury and had to be helped off the field shortly after Noel’s score. He appeared to favor his left leg and would not return to the game, and his status for Pitt’s next contest is unclear.
The 4-0 victory marked the fifth clean sheet of the season for Nico Campuzano. He entered the matchup with 51 saves and would add 10 more in another a solid performance in goal for the Panthers. And thanks in part to the efforts of Campuzano, Pitt will advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
In the Elite Eight, No. 3 Pitt, which is now 15-3 on the season, will face No. 8 Washington, a team with a 12-3 record. The 15 wins Pitt has amassed are the most in a single season in program history. The Panthers and Huskies will kick off from Cary on Monday at 1 p.m.